What’s Inside Apple’s A6 Chip?
The SoC, or system-on-a-chip, is the brain in every tablet and smartphone currently available. Nvidia makes the Tegra, Texas Instruments has its OMAP, and Qualcomm breathes fire with the Snapdragon platform. All of these systems can be found in a number of different Android and Windows Phone devices, but Apple has its own SoC to play with. The original iPad shipped with the A4 SoC, a 1 GHz single-core CPU paired with a PowerVR SGX535 GPU. The iPad 2’s A5 pulled and Emeril and kicked things up a notch, packing a dual-core 1 GHz CPU and more powerful SGX543.
So far, the Internet is split over what route Apple will go with the A6, although everyone seems to agree upon the name. Many are counting on a quad-core CPU, clocking in at 1.0 or 1.5 GHz. The speed is up in the air, but since Tegra 3 is sitting at 2 GHz 1.3 GHz we’re using that as a barometer. On the other hand, some think the A6 will maintain a dual-core design, albeit at a higher clock speed than the A5.
A quad-core SoC would chew through HD video, as well as anything else it’s tasked with. Game performance would get a significant boost, too, which would be a boon for developers and casual gamers alike. Battery life would likely suffer, although a larger battery (see the previous page) combined with Apple’s knack for getting the most out of its device’s power sources could iron out that wrinkle.
As far as the GPU is concerned, a step up is a given at this point. It’s going to be a PowerVR component of some sort – similar to the dual-core SGX543MP2 in the iPad 2 – but the exact part number is still a mystery. Apple can go one of two ways here: 1) choose a GPU from the same family as the iPad 2’s part (this would be the “Series5XT”), but choose a component with more graphics cores – say four cores instead of two, or 2) go with a PowerVR Series6 component, the details of which just came to light today. The known Series6 parts are the G6200 (dual-core) and G6400 (quad-core), and the performance gains over the previous Series5 generation is astronomical - up 20 times more powerful. If Apple chooses either component, gaming performance and graphic-heavy transitions (like flipping a page in an eBook) will get a serious shot in the arm. It would also make the iPad 3 a very HD-friendly device, which could mean HD Netflix on-the-go, just for starters.
Lastly, Apple has never been one to be outdone for long in the mobile hardware space; Apple always seems to be on par – or several months ahead – of the competition, be it with the iPhone line or the iPad. The Asus Transformer is a force to be reckoned with, thanks to its Tegra 3 SoC, and Apple will likely want to meet or exceed the performance of this flagship Android tablet.
Final Prediction: The iPad 3 comes to market with a quad-core A6, clocked between 1.0 and 1.5 GHz. The GPU will be a PowerVR Series6 part. Combined, these will allow Apple to keep pace, or possibly even outgun, the latest and greatest Android tablets.